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Filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey

Filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey's new feature is Party Monster, starring Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin. It's about a murder that took place in the drug-saturated New York City club scene in the early 1990s. Michael Alig, a party promoter, was convicted of killing a young drug dealer known as Angel. This is Culkin's first film in nine years. He plays Michael Alig. Green plays author/celebutante James St. James. Barbato and Bailey also collaborated on a 1999 documentary of the same name and on the same topic. Their other projects include The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Monica in Black and White, a documentary about Monica Lewinsky.


Other segments from the episode on September 15, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 15, 2003: Interview with Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey; Review of My Morning Jacket's new album "It Still Moves;" Review of the new television series "K street…


DATE September 15, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey discuss their new
movie "Party Monster"

This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

My guests Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato wrote and directed the new film
"Party Monster." It's set in the downtown Manhattan club scene of the '80s.
The movie's based on the true story of Michael Alig who became famous for
producing `over the top' parties in which people came in glamorous and surreal
gender-bending costumes and got very high. But after getting addicted to
drugs and losing whatever bearings he had, Alig murdered his drug dealer,
Angel, who was also his friend. Michael Alig is played by Macaulay Culkin,
Seth Green plays James St. James who teaches Alig how to dress, behave and
become the center of attention in the party scene.

In this scene from early in the film, they're in a Dunkin' Donuts; Alig is
asking for advice.

(Soundbite of the movie "Party Monster")

Mr. MACAULAY CULKIN (As Michael Alig): What do you do?

Mr. SETH GREEN (As James St. James): I don't do, I just am. It's extremely
rich. Anyway, if I'm going to stay in this roach motel a moment longer we're
going to need to take things up a notch.

Mr. CULKIN: I don't do drugs.

Mr. GREEN: Nor do I. Did you see that? It just flew right up my nose!

Mr. CULKIN: My mother says drugs are for losers.

Mr. GREEN: She's so right. It's got to be hydrochloride, aka Special K.
It's mainly used by vets as an animal tranquilizer. When taken by humans it
works as a dissociate of drugs selectively reducing excitation in the central
amayal neurons by n-methylasparate. In other words it (censored) you

Mr. CULKIN: I want you to teach me how to be fabulous.

Mr. GREEN: We've nothing in common.

Mr. CULKIN: Wait. We both bite our nails. Please. Don't go. I don't have
any friends, I just got here. I just got off the bus.

Mr. GREEN: The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. Blake,
William. That's really all you need to know. That and don't dream it, be it.

GROSS: The movie "Party Monster" is based on a documentary of the same name
that filmmakers Bailey and Barbato made about Michael Alig a few years ago.
They also made the film "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," "Monica in Black and White"
and "Gay Hollywood." I asked them to describe the club scene the movie is set
in. Fenton Bailey says it was hierarchical and codified.

Mr. FENTON BAILEY (Filmmaker): It was sort of led by Warhol at the top. And
beneath Warhol were various luminaries of the nightclub scene. It was very,
very structured, rather like the court at Versailles. And along comes Michael
Alig, this little kid that no one pays any attention to and he just acts up
and behaves badly. And his pranks and attention-getting devices actually
created this whole new club scene that was based on chaos, irreverence, it
ostensibly had no structure at all. One of the key Michael Alig things was
to do these outlaw parties where he would call everybody up and everybody
would gather at a subway station or under a railway bridge and they would be
there for 10 or 15 minutes and then the police would show up and break the
whole thing up. So Michael Alig's New York nightlife scene was based on sort
of anarchy and it came as this revolution after a very structured and, not
archaic, but Byzantine club scene.

Mr. RANDY BARBATO (Filmmaker): The thing about Michael Alig's scene is for a
minute, particularly at the beginning, he was trying to create this sort of
utopia. He was sort of creating a safe space for all these misfits and all
these kids who were picked on in high school, from all over the country, to
`come to New York and reinvent yourself, be the life of the party, the
superstar.' And I think that was very different than Warhol's scene and

GROSS: Warhol was more about exquisivity.

Mr. BAILEY: I think Warhol was really the prophet of the times we live in
today. And so much of what he said and did, we're now living with. I mean
it's funny to think that Warhol created or talked about doing `the nothing
special show' which would happen and no one would do anything. Well, you
know, what is "Big Brother" other than a nothing special show? I mean he kind
of invented reality TV. And I think what the club kids were doing was sort
of--in a way they're Warhol's grandchildren. And they were taking Warhol's
principles and making them their own. And they did so very successfully.

GROSS: Michael Alig did a lot of drugs and so did a lot of people involved in
this scene. What were his drugs of choice?

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, Michael Alig's drugs were like coke, K, Rohypnol, heroin,
crack, anything and everything. He consumed drugs really like children
consume candy.

Mr. BARBATO: When it came to drugs he didn't discriminate. It was funny
making the movie because we actually found that we had to take out a lot of
the drug scenes because it just became unbelievable. So in the film to a
certain extent we weren't able to kind of represent, you know, the vast
quantities of drugs that he did.

Mr. BAILEY: Of course the irony is that Michael Alig, when he came to New
York, and in the first stages of his career was very anti-drugs. In fact, he
didn't really even drink that much. And Michael was very contemptuous of
people who had drug addiction problems. And his whole thing was to pretend
that he was drunk and messed up because that would get the party atmosphere
going. And, of course, at some point pretending crossed over into actually
being a mess.

GROSS: Have you tried to imagine what happened to his mind that enabled him
to commit a murder and then just dispose of the body a few days later after
the body sat around the house for a few days? And I should mention the person
he murdered was his drug dealer who was demanding to finally get paid because
it had been a long time since he's gotten paid.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, that's right, his drug dealer and his roommate and
supposedly his friend. I think it would be all too easy though to blame the
murder on the drugs. And for us the murder really is this problem at the
heart of the movie. And the murder was actually caused by many, many, many
things. And there are, we think, in many ways, there are multiple truths that
explain how and why this murder happened. You know, good and evil are really
complicated things in that they coexist in us in equal measure. And this
murder which is this problem at the heart of the movie happens for many, many
different reasons and drug addiction is just one of the many reasons.

Mr. BARBATO: Michael was an addict and he was a drug addict as well. But I
think his addiction to fame had more to do with his downfall and is the thing
to really look at here. I mean, you know, we live in a culture of celebrity
and Michael, you know, lived for the spotlight. It was like oxygen for him.

GROSS: Well, were you a part of this club scene?

Mr. BAILEY: We were really more on the periphery I suppose. Randy and I
would deejay and we had a band called the Pop Tarts. We used to perform in a
lot of these clubs and somewhat before the club kids came along. I'm afraid
we're too old to have been club kids.

And so we really watched it from the outside. We both had day jobs so we
couldn't lose ourselves completely in the nightlife because we had to get up
early and go to work.

GROSS: Yeah. And it's like when Michael Alig says to his young mentor, James
St. James, `what do you do?' James St. James says, `I don't do, I just am.'
I guess you weren't `just am,' you were actually working.

Mr. BAILEY: Well, I think it's very, you know, it's hard to imagine today
but New York in those days, one night club owner called Rudolph who owned a
club called Danceteria, he once said that there really needed to be two mayors
of New York, one for the nightlife and one for the day life. So you needed a
Rudolph Giuliani and you needed a, oh, I don't know, Liza Minnelli should have
been the mayor of New York nightlife.

GROSS: Well, what did you like about the scene, and what, if anything made
you very uncomfortable about it?

Mr. BAILEY: I think what was immediately attractive about the scene was that
here were kids with no money who were able to invent themselves and claim a
place in the sort of mediasphere. They were able to get attention and create
spectacle and entertainment out of nothing. And I think that, you know, in
some respects they were acting out the American dream.

Mr. BARBATO: I mean they were running around with the dazzlers and glue guns
and, you know, staple guns and making a different sort of trash couture outfit
every night. And you know, that was inspiring. And I think Fenton and I were
very naive. I mean, for the longest time we had no idea the role that drugs,
you know, how drugs were seeping into the scene. We were sort of standing on
the sidelines saying, `oh, my God, look at them, they look fabulous.' And
meanwhile, you know, bit by bit, you know, they started consuming drugs and it
just overtook the whole scene.

Mr. BAILEY: You know, I think what always attracted us to this scene, New
York nightlife in the '80s and downtown New York, was it actually was an
incredibly creative place. You know, Madonna came out of New York downtown;
Deee-lite came out of New York downtown, RuPaul. I think, you know, many,
many artists and names--it was a very creative place.

Mr. BARBATO: And just one other thing. The other amazing thing about that
time that I don't think we've seen since then. It was a youth-culture
movement and it was a youth-culture movement that was actually authored and
owned by youth. I mean we live in an age now where youth culture is sort of
authored by 40-and-50 somethings. There is no youth culture that belongs to
the youth. It's been so co-opted and marketed and, you know, most adults are
busy rejuveniling that you know, looking back at that time, it's like, these
were kids and they were going a little wild. And that's what kids should do.

GROSS: My guests are Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. They made the new
movie "Party Monster." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey. Their new movie "Party
Monster" is based on the true story of Michael Alig who was at the center of
downtown Manhattan's club scene in the `80s and is now in prison for murdering
his drug dealer, Angel, who was also his friend. Barbato and Bailey made a
documentary film about Alig that was also called "Party Monster." The film
was made after the murder, three months before Alig's arrest when rumors were
circulating that he was the killer. Here's Alig in the documentary talking
about Angel.

(Soundbite of documentary "Party Monster")

Mr. MICHAEL ALIG (From documentary "Party Monster"): He was a copycat. He
was one of those copycats that we hate and so we killed him. I killed Angel
and--that's the kind of thing that gets me in trouble.

GROSS: I asked Fenton Bailey what he made of Alig's comments.

Mr. BAILEY: When Michael said that we didn't actually believe him. Michael
was going around saying that he had killed Angel and we thought that no one
who actually had committed the murder could possibly run around and say they
had without in pretty short order being arrested.

Mr. BARBATO: I mean, he actually would go out to restaurants with the word
guilty written on his forehead. And we thought it had to be an elaborate
prank. We thought, oh, it's part of, you know, part of prepromotion for some
party and Angel will descend from the ceiling. I mean, you know.

Mr. BAILEY: That's what we thought and it sort of did fit that a lot of
Michael Alig's pranks and ideas were sort of off-color and slightly tasteless.
So it was clear that Angel had disappeared and for Michael to say he had
murdered him was the typical kind of stunt remark that we expected him to
make. So no one was more shocked actually when he was arrested a few months
later than Randy or myself. And we later asked Michael, we said, `Michael,
how come if you had done this thing you would go around saying that you had?'
And he said, `well, I thought that if I said that no one would believe that I
possibly could have.' And obviously it worked.

GROSS: And I should mention in case anyone is confused that Angel is the name
of the drug dealer who Michael was convicted of killing. In the party scene,
Angel used to wear these big angel wings and even appeared that way once on
"The Geraldo Rivera Show" when he was doing a show on the club kids.

Michael's good friend and his mentor in fabulousness, James St. James, who's
played in the movie by Seth Green, he wrote a book about the party scene and
about the Alig murder. The book was originally called "Disco Bloodbath," now
it's been republished with the same title as your movie, "Party Monster." One
of the things I find so interesting about this is that you've had a hand in
three versions of this story. You did the documentary on the scene in the
murder and then you, I think, convinced James St. James to write a book about
it. And then, based on the documentary and the book you've made this
theatrical film with actors, "Party Monster." Why do you want to keep telling
the story?

Mr. BAILEY: I suppose as we followed the story it seemed to get more and
more intriguing to us. I mean, you know, we're talking about a central
character, two central characters who are locked in this sort of love-hate
co-dependent relationship and then you've got characters like Angel who walks
around with giant angel wings dealing drugs in a nightclub that is a church, a
deconsecrated church. And his nemesis is a guy called Freeze who has demonic
red hair, wears leather outfits and has this sort of satanic Fu Manchu. We're
not making any of this up, it's all completely real.

GROSS: You know, when I tell people that the film stars Macauley Culkin I
always get this like strange look. `It stars Macauley Culkin?' Because people
know him as the "Home Alone" kid. I have to say he's terrific in this film
and he's got great features for the film too because he has such big features
and such expressive one. He has really big eyes and really full lips. So, he
has to be very expressive with his face during the film, and he is. And he
also looks, I have to say, really great when he's made up, when he's in drag.
How did you end up casting what most people would think of as such an unlikely

Mr. BARBATO: Well, we wrote the script with Macauley Culkin in mind for a
number of reasons. The first reason was because we thought he was a great
actor. Particularly our favorite film of his was "The Good Son." But then we
thought, you know, Michael Alig sort of lived to be in the spotlight, Macauley
sort of, you know, spent his childhood running away from it. Macauley has a
sort of understanding of celebrity that we felt could really bring added value
to the role. And they are, in fact, you know, two different sides of the same
coin. And, you know, we talked a lot about this with Mac. Of course, he had
retired, you know, at the time that we were writing this script and we became
so obsessed with it that we said, well, we're not doing it if Macauley doesn't
do it. And I don't know what made us think that we could persuade him to do
this or, you know, that he would come out of retirement at the age of, you
know, 19 or 18. But we just felt that no one else could do this. I mean he
has that angelic--there's something angelic about him but he can do that sort
of devilish grin. And we really needed someone with that, you know, kind of
killer charisma that, you know, could make you smile as he's peeing in your
champagne glass.

GROSS: Literally.

Mr. BARBATO: Literally.

GROSS: And what was his reaction when you told him about your script in which
he would be portraying a drug addicted drag queen party monster?

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, Macauley at first--well, it took a couple of years really.

GROSS: Hard work.

Mr. BAILEY: But once he was on board.

Well, we were in a real fix because there was no one else that could play this
part. So if we couldn't persuade Macauley we probably couldn't make the film.
But once he read the script he was on board and never had any problem with any
of the excesses of the character or what he was asked to do. He just seemed to
intuitively understand who Michael Alig was. I mean, Michael Alig was someone
who had sort of the same fame fever in his blood and I think Macauley Culkin
was someone who, as a child star for almost from the age he could walk, is
someone who knew what that fever was all about. He's been at the center of
that spotlight. So I think he just got it completely.

GROSS: Now, Seth Green plays Michael Alig's good friend and mentor, James St.
James. And James St. James is also the author of the book, "Party Monster"
that your movie is partially based on. Seth Green is terrific in this part
which requires him to be both very kind of cynical and funny but also very
vulnerable in his own guarded way. How did you cast Seth Green?

Mr. BARBATO: I don't know how we cast Seth Green. I mean, you know, we were
huge fans of his and we had thought of a couple people but not seriously and
then he just popped in our minds. And we reached out to him, sent him a
script, set up a meeting. We had a meeting with him and we were blown away.
He didn't read for us, we just talked. And he talked about, you know, the
thing about everyone in this cast is we wanted great actors but we wanted
really smart people. We wanted smart people who we could collaborate with
because that's the way we work. And, you know, Seth is a smart guy. And in
the middle of our first meeting with him there was this moment where he did
like a flip of the wrist and did the James St. James laugh. And we're like,
`oh, my God, that's it.' You know, you are James St. James. And he actually
helped us persuade Macauley. You know, Seth Green was the first person on
board and he helped us get the rest of our cast.

Mr. BAILEY: You know, I think we kind of casted a bit. We sort of brought
our documentary background to the casting so that we couldn't resist, or we
thought that it was actually really important to cast people who had some real
relationships with these characters. Like, for example, Marilyn Manson
playing the transsexual, sadomasochistic, dominatrix Christina or whether it
was Diana Scarwid playing Michael Alig's mom because Diana Scarwid was
Christina in "Mommy Dearest" or Chloe Sevigny who actually was a club kid and
could understand the Gitsie role because Michael Alig was at first extremely
rude to her and never liked her, Chloe Sevigny. Sort of had an intense hate,
hate relationship. So every kind of role, someone's got some sort of
real-life connection. I think in a way what we were trying to do was try and
connect this underground subculture with the mainstream. And that's why
almost all the actors in the movie have some connection with that kind of
club, some real vital connection, some bond with that their club kid personas
that they play.

GROSS: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato will be back in the second half of the
show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Fenton Bailey and Randy
Barbato. They wrote and directed the new movie "Party Monster," which stars
Macaulay Culkin as Michael Alig, who is at the center of the downtown
Manhattan club scene in the '80s and is now in prison for the murder of his
drug dealer who was also his friend.

Now as we've been describing, you made a documentary based on the same
people and the same scene, and then you made this feature film with
actors telling the same story. Now when you watch the two back to
back, the documentary has, even at the parties, even at the fabulous parties
with everybody, you know, all costumed and dancing, it has that kind of
chaotic look that real life tends to have, whereas the party sequences in the
movie really look fabulous. I mean, the colors are great, every costume is
perfect, it's beautifully shot. It's as if you were shooting the party scenes
from how they looked in the minds of the people participating in them.

Mr. BAILEY: Well...

Mr. BARBATO: I'm so glad you said that, 'cause that's exactly right. I mean,
we were really fortunate making the feature film that many--you know, many of
the players in the film were actual club kids. You know, there's about a
thousand costumes in this film, and a huge chunk of them are authentic. I
mean, they were either brought out of, you know, the moth balls, where sort of
they were taken out of the box and the moth balls were brushed off and we had
the kids put them back on. And also, a lot of club kids showed up in the
production office with their glue guns and their Be-Dazzlers and made new
costumes for us. So we really--although they were a little bit more polished
probably than the original ones, so we were lucky enough to really get that
sort of level of authenticity. And then we just gave it that sort of merchant
ivory spin.

GROSS: You know, often, maybe I can even say usually, when theatrical
filmmakers make a movie based on a real story, whether it's a story of a war
or whether it's a biography, there is always just a lot of explanation about
all the liberties they had to take with the theatrical version because, well,
you know, real life is just too messy and too complicated. So you have to
boil it down and you have to make up scenes and you have to change the truth
'cause that's the way you have to do it. Having made a documentary on the
subject already, how much did you feel like you actually took in, you
know--how many liberties do you think you actually needed to take with the
story? Watching them both, I'd say your movie seems pretty faithful to your

Mr. BAILEY: I think, in a way, looking at it, the documentary almost worked
for us as kind of pre-production or kind of research.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. BAILEY: And James writing the book also helped that process, so that
when we came to make the film, we were completely steeped in every detail and
dimension of the story. The greatest liberty we took was to compress events
and cut and paste things. And the rationale for that was that, well, these
kids spent most of this time on drugs, and in that state of mind, the passing
of time or what day it is or what year it is or even what century you're in or
what planet you're on kind of becomes immaterial. It becomes very plastic.
And so we took a story that deserves a span of 10 years and really compressed
it to about two or three and even though you're never really sure in the movie
what year it is or where you are. And I think in a way, even though it is a
movie, funny enough, we feel that in some respects, the movie is more true
than the documentary because we were able to take all these things that were
true and compress them and put them into the movie and cut and paste them.

You know, I think, though, the difference between a documentary and feature,
is that sometimes they get overplayed. And the thing about the club kids,
especially, was that they'd sort of grown up in the lens of the media. They
were addicted to attention, and they were carrying on always as if they were
actors in a film. And I think it's funny making documentaries because
increasingly it seems that our subjects are familiar with cameras and lenses.
They're used to being on a kind of stage. So, you know, perhaps we're all
performing all the time, which, you know, makes the difference between real
people and actors actually less than we think it is.

GROSS: Well, you know, a bunch of your films are about people who--they want
to be in front of a camera, they want to be celebrities and they've undergone
some kind of intentional self-transformation in order to become the person
that they want to be. And that includes your documentary on Andy Warhol, your
documentary "Party Monster," your documentary on Tammy Faye Bakker Messner,
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye." And I'm wondering if, like, you ever went through a
period like that yourself where instead of wanting to be behind the camera,
you wanted to be in front of it, and if you went through a period of
recreating yourself in a new image.

Mr. BARBATO: Well, of course, we never wanted to be stars.

Mr. BAILEY: He lied.

Mr. BARBATO: No, you know what? I think everybody loves messy celebrities.
I think we are certainly obsessed with them. And I think we're obsessed with
them and I think probably everybody is, because secretly, there's a part of
everybody that wants to be a star. And there's also a part of everybody that
is a mess. I mean, we--and so when you see those two things come together,
when--you know, we're all waiting for J. Lo to lose it. She's too perfect
right now, because that--the packaged celebrities who are our sort of gods and
goddesses, we love it when they lose it, because that's when they are like us.
That's when--each day we get up, we have to, like, it's, you know, for most
people, it's a big deal to get from the bed to the shower and to get through
the day. And we are surrounded by all these, like, manufactured pieces of
perfection that somehow, you know, we're supposed to believe truly exist. So
when someone like Tammy Faye comes along and, you know, the mascara's running
down her face and she's losing it and she continues to do that, does not edit
herself, you know, just makes one mistake after the next, I think that's
incredibly refreshing.

GROSS: I love it. You think it's really self-affirming when--self-affirming
for the public when celebrities fall apart.

Mr. BAILEY: Well, you know, I mean, the kids were sort of, you know, often
people said to us, `Oh, well, you know, why would you make a film about these
characters? They're so extreme.' But they're not really that extreme in that
I think we can all relate to the fact that we don't always want to get out of
bed in the morning and go to work, and we all have to do that. And the whole
club kid idea was, like, guess what? You don't have to. So I do think that
there is a very vital connection between all the famous people and all the
fame-seekers and wanna-bes and the rest of us.

GROSS: So getting back to you both, did you--sorry.

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, ...(unintelligible) we've been avoiding this question.

GROSS: Did you want to be famous and fabulous yourselves? And did you go
through a period of transformation?

Mr. BAILEY: Yes. Yes, yes. We--Randy and I, we had a band called The
Fabulous Pop Tarts. And we were--called ourselves The Fabulous Pop Tarts,
perhaps knowing that we certainly weren't fabulous. And our bid for pop
stardom was remarkably unsuccessful. And--but it did teach us a few things
along the way. And I guess we are just fascinated with fame and celebrity.
Because, you know, when Andy Warhol said, `In the future, everyone will be
famous for 15 minutes,' well, you know, that moment has arrived. But what
Andy Warhol didn't point out was how problematic this would be and how much
heartache and misery and upset and shattered dreams and, you know, how it
would all end in tears. Warhol didn't speak about that, and I think that's
what we're dealing with right now, you know, from reality television to Mariah
Carey's breakdown.

GROSS: Now when you started making documentaries and you were carrying around
cameras all the time, did you suddenly become really popular? Because the
camera confers celebrity.

Mr. BARBATO: Terry, I'm telling you, it does not happen.

Mr. BAILEY: Hasn't worked for us.

But you know, I mean, the club kids were interesting because they sussed that
if you can't get anyone to pay attention to you, you sort of do it yourself,
and that's exactly what they did. You know, they bought their own camcorders,
they started their own magazine. They created their own scen--you know,
Details magazine, which was the paper of record in New York night life,
wouldn't write about Michael Alig and the club kids. So what did Michael Alig
do? He started Project-X, his own magazine. You know, they brought their own
camcorders. They made their own videotapes, and they sort of--in this way,
they sort of pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Mr. BARBATO: And in many ways, they--you know, that is another example of
how ahead of their time they were, because, you know, right now in the
entertainment industry, you know, there is a kind of DIY culture, a very much
do-it-yourself that's part of what's happening with reality television, and
you know, the club kids, you know, making their own magazines and making their
own couture, were kind of ahead of the curve on that one.

GROSS: My guests are Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. They wrote and
directed the new film "Party Monster." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, wrote and directed the new
movie "Party Monster."

You were making documentaries about gay-related themes for years, and now kind
of culture is catching up with not only reality television but gay-themed
reality television, from "Queer Eye" to--was it "Boy Meets Boy"?

Mr. BAILEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What do you think of this coming together of, you know, reality
television and gay themes?

Mr. BAILEY: The sort of huge popularity of all things gay right now in a way
isn't surprising because the nature of pop culture is that it is an insatiable
beast, so that all the wacky stuff on the edges and the fringes inevitably
drifts towards the center.

GROSS: Is it somewhat just like slightly irritating that gay is, like,

Mr. BAILEY: It's a new thing, and pop culture is always about the new, new

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. BARBATO: It's a complicated thing.

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. BARBATO: I mean, I think--but I think the easy answer is it's probably a
good thing.

Mr. BAILEY: The short answer is it's a good thing.

GROSS: Right. OK. OK. And now, Fenton Bailey, I read--in reading a little
bit about you guys, I read that when you were growing up, one of your favorite
kids was Batman. And I thought, `Oh, the ambiguously gay duo.'

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah. Well, for me, little did I know, but not so ambiguously,
you know, I had this fixation on Batman and Robin that probably was very--I
think my parents were slightly worried about it. And I would become--I don't
know what the word is--overstimulated perhaps by watching the TV show to such
an extent that my parents banned me from watching it. They thought it was
because it was in color and the colors were so rich and vibrant that they
thought that that was why it was having an adverse effect on this young
six-year-old boy.

GROSS: OK. One last question. You're now working on a documentary about
"Deep Throat" and its impact on American culture. "Deep Throat" was one of
the most famous porn films of--Was it early '70s?--and...

Mr. BAILEY: No, make it for a few thousand dollars and has grossed $600
million or more.

GROSS: So why are you examining that?

Mr. BARBATO: Well, the short answer is sex. No, you know, it was a very
interesting point in time. "Deep Throat" came out in 1972, and it was at the
sort of the culmination of the sexual and cultural revolution, and more people
saw "Deep Throat" than "Gone With The Wind." Something was going on, and
America really has never been the same since. So to be honest with you, we're
trying to figure out what it all means. I mean, there are so many levels to
the story. You know, when "Deep Throat" came out, you know, it was the moment
of porno chic, and people were going to the malls to see an X-rated movie. I
mean, you know--and now, today we live in an age where we're surrounded by
sexual imagery, but could you imagine going to the local mall to see an
X-rated movie? I mean, it's just--it's incomprehensible. And so somehow, in
exploring the success of that movie, we're hoping to figure out all the
answers to all the questions of the age we live in today.

GROSS: Well, thank you both so much for talking with us.

Mr. BAILEY: Thank you.

Mr. BARBATO: Thank you.

GROSS: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato wrote and directed the new film "Party
Monster." It's based in part on a memoir by James St. James, which has just
been published in a new edition.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: My Morning Jacket's new album "It Still Moves"

Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of a new CD by My Morning Jacket, a
Louisville, Kentucky, quintet that's just released its third album called "It
Still Moves." The band, led by singer/songwriter Jim James, has drawn
comparisons to an earlier generation of rock acts, like Neil Young, The Band
and REM. But Ken says My Morning Jacket is evolving into its own identity
with impressive quickness.

(Soundbite of "Dancefloors")

Mr. JIM JAMES: (Singing) Baby, ...(unintelligible) as long as I believe.
There ain't nothing going like the scheme you showing; keys you gave to me.
(Unintelligible) some things from everywhere. So put the past, I'm digging
a grave so big you can swallow up the sea.

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Jim James has this sort of high, keening moan that sounds like Neil Young's
circa "Harvest," all plangent earnestness and wrung-out exhaustion. He's an
all-out emoter, and when accompanied by his group's chugging guitar, drums and
occasional horn section, an arousing song like that one, called "Dancefloors,"
My Morning Jacket achieves a Crazy Horse intensity.

(Soundbite of "Golden")

Mr. JAMES: (Singing) Watching the stretch of road, miles that I explore,
drifting off to things I'd never done before. Watching the crowd roll in.
Out go the lights. I begin a feeling in my bones, I never felt before.

TUCKER: That song, "Golden," is a fairly straightforward description of what
Jim James sees and thinks just before taking the stage and while he's
performing. The lyric is typical of James' self-consciousness. He writes
songs about what it's like to have written a song he's going to sing and then
sings about that experience. The effect would be dizzying if the music wasn't
so disarmingly pretty.

(Soundbite of "Mahgeetah")

Mr. JAMES: (Singing) Singing out. (Unintelligible) peace of mind. So, I'm
ready to go. I'll be there. I'll be waiting on a boat ...(unintelligible)
waiting so long. Oh.

TUCKER: More often, Jim James, who wrote and produced all the songs on "It
Still Moves," is an elliptical lyricist, sometimes frustratingly so. That
song, "Mahgeetah," is some pickle about how Jim and his lady--Talk about
inviting invidious comparisons to '60s throwbacks--are on a boat waiting to go
somewhere, or something, I don't know. If the music around the words and the
ache in James' voice weren't so alluring, I'd be put off, as I was by this
song, "Early Morning Rebel," with its facile Christian symbolism and folk-
country funkiness.

(Soundbite of "Early Morning Rebel")

Mr. JAMES: (Singing) Well, he's a morning rebel, ...(unintelligible) from,
come down from heaven by the blazing sun. He takes ...(unintelligible).
He'll take ...(unintelligible). As long as he's moving to
heaven ...(unintelligible). Oh.

TUCKER: I gather "Early Morning Rebel" is Jesus, his earthly body, according
to Reverend Jim James, just a temporary home. But then there's something
toward the end about a black-hearted ruler and the phrase `he'll be the water
if you'll be the wine,' an invocation of the Eucharist that makes no sense,
since Christ was both the body and the blood. Again, what saves the song, if
you'll excuse the expression, isn't the lyrics but the steady build of guitars
and horns toward the end. In fact, the more I listen to My Morning Jacket,
the more I think it's their endings, the climaxes of Jim James' meandering,
what one might call the `evening jacket' of the songs, that provides the
band's best moments. Before he earns those Neil Young comparisons, Jim James
still has to work on structure and syntax as assiduously as he does the
revelations of his sincere emotions.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"It Still Moves" from the group My Morning Jacket.

Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli reviews "K Street," HBO's new series
about political consultants and lobbyists. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: HBO's new series "K Street"

Last night HBO premiered "K Street," a new series about political lobbyists
and consultants. It comes from George Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh
and is produced so close to air that it wasn't available in advance for
review. TV critic David Bianculli watched last night, along with everyone
else who tuned in, and has this review.


HBO has enjoyed a long solid streak of presenting great new series. At the
Emmys this Sunday, it ought to clean up, not only for mini series and TV
movies, but for weekly comedies and dramas. "The Sopranos," "Curb Your
Enthusiasm," "Sex and the City," "Six Feet Under"--these are wonderful shows.
"The Wire" is getting good, too. And in the past few years, just about the
only bad gamble the network has made was "Mind of a Married Man," a sitcom
that forgot to be funny.

Last night HBO unveiled the two newest members of its Sunday night roster.
One was "Carnivale," a biblical allegory set in the dust bowl that combines
"The Grapes of Wrath" with "Twin Peaks" with a little of Tod Browning's
"Freaks" for good measure. Visually, "Carnivale" looks intriguing, and there
are some strong set pieces in the three episodes I've previewed. But so far,
it doesn't add up to anything very impressive. So far, it doesn't add up at
all. But it's so different, I'm willing to give it time.

The same goes for "K Street," which premiered last night. It, too, is
somewhat problematic and requires viewers to be patient as well as attentive.
"K Street," set and filmed in Washington, DC, is a comedy drama that's
obsessed with process. The process of influencing and shaping public opinion
is one obsession; the process behind the scenes of making the TV series on the
fly and making it up as you go along with a mix of actors and real people is

Longtime HBO subscribers with equally long memories will recall that HBO tried
this once before and succeeded brilliantly in a 1988 series called "Tanner
'88." That series took a fictional presidential candidate and threw him into
the real-life political ring, attending primaries and rubbing up against
actual politicians and media types. It was brilliant not only because of its
premise but because of the artists who executed it. Each episode was written
or at least outlined by "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau and directed by
none other than Robert Altman.

This time around, for "K Street," the collaborators are George Clooney, who
remains off camera as a producer and occasional editor and photographer, and
director Steven Soderbergh. There are only three actors in the "K Street"
cast: Mary McCormack from "Murder One" as Maggie, John Slattery as Tommy and
Roger Guenveur Smith as Francisco. All of them play current or future
employees of the bipartisan consulting firm headed by real-life husband and
wife Democrat James Carville and Republican Mary Matalin.

In the opener, Vermont Governor Howard Dean, one of the real Democratic
presidential candidates, asks Carville to give him some advice prior to then-
upcoming televised debate. Carville's acceptance of the pro bono job, against
his wife's wishes, serves as the first show's major plot, but the real meat is
when Carville and his team run Dean through a mock debate anticipating
possible questions and suggesting possible replies.

(Excerpt from "K Street")

Mr. JAMES CARVILLE: When you get the Vermont question, say, `Look, if the
percentage of--of--of black folks in your state was determinative of your
record on civil rights, then--then Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King.

BIANCULLI: A few scenes later, we see Matalin watching the real televised
debate at home while Carville and company watch from the debate site itself.
At first, Matalin is surprised that none of her husband's handiwork seems to
have made an impact. Then watching from separate locations, both Matalin and
Carville are even more surprised to learn that it has.

(Excerpt from "K Street")

Ms. MARY MATALIN: Whatever James contributed to the prepping is not evident
that there's not enough time.

Unidentified Man: Thank you. But, Governor Dean, let me go to you. Frankly,
there's been some concern that because of the racial makeup of Vermont, about
understanding the concerns of minorities, in particular African-Americans. Is
this valid, and if so, what are you doing to connect with this community?

Governor HOWARD DEAN: Well, if the percent of minorities that's in your state
has anything to do with how you can connect with African-American voters, then
Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King.

BIANCULLI: That's kind of fascinating, the way a scene filmed by HBO found
itself echoed in an actual televised political debate. It's also kind of
creepy. But the message that it's all showbiz, in a way, is at the core of "K
Street," just as it was in "Tanner '88." It's not a comfortable message, but
there it is.

Last week the "K Street" crew was refused permission to film on Capitol Hill,
and those restrictions, as well as whatever the very current events are, will
dictate the directions this show will take. So far it's presented very
starkly, no theme song, no closing music, and none of the real or fictional
players are identified until the end. Beltway insiders will love this sort of
inside baseball coyness, but those outside the Beltway, who may not recognize
Senators Don Nickles and Rick Santorum by sight, are liable to be less
impressed than confused.

Both of these new HBO series will take time to develop and, to be fair, to
judge. That makes them different from most network fall shows right there.
Though I have to say as a first impression, neither "Carnivale" nor "K Street"
knocks me out. Back when "The Sopranos" and "Tanner '88" premiered, both of
those shows did.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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